TODAY’S East Anglian derby is the biggest of its kind for a number of years with the lure of Barclays Premier League football next season at stake.
Ipswich Town host Norwich City in the first leg of the SkyBet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final and both know that positive results are vital ahead of the return leg next weekend.
The Canaries won both of the regular season encounters but they will know that when it comes to the Play-Offs anything can happen.
Unlike regular season games there is much more at stake than bragging rights for the winners. It is thought that in excess of £150m is paid out to the winners of football’s most lucrative game on the calendar and come May 25th one of these teams are hoping that it is them that it holding the cheque aloft and trips to the Emirates, Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge on the agenda next season.
Before all that though both will have to be on their game as they take each other on at Portman Road.
This week Town boss Mick McCarthy has stated that it isn’t a disaster if his side don’t win their home leg: “The fixture won’t be over until the final whistle goes at Carrow Road,” McCarthy told BBC Radio Suffolk.
The fans trust and believe in the team, and so do I. I just want two good performances, and whatever will happen, will happen. Everything’s fine, everybody’s very relaxed. I think the club and fans have a team they can be proud of, off and on the pitch, and whatever happens over the next two or three games, my pride in them won’t be diminished.”
Ipswich defender Tyrone Mings sums up how important this tie is for the city in general: “I live in the town centre and every time you go to the post office, or to the shop or to fill up your car, people are asking you: ‘Can we win on Saturday?’ ” he says.
“The whole town has got the bug. And social media is so powerful, fans can let you know directly how much the fixture means to them. I’ve been inundated this week. Everyone’s really bought into this. It matters.”
The fortunes of both sides have been vastly different in recent times. Ipswich have been in the second tier of English football for the past 15 years and a chance to finally return to the Premier League is something the fans have been dreaming about for a long time.
As for Norwich the tag “yo-yo club” couldn’t be more accurate. They have been bouncing around the divisions in recent times and were even in League One back in 2009-10. They won the title that season before gaining two promotions on the trot after finishing runners-up in the Championship the following season.
After their relegation last year from the Premier League Neil Adams’ side are hoping they can seal their return at the first time of asking: “I’m excited. I like competing, whoever I’m up against, and we always play to win, whatever’s at stake.
“It will be a tense atmosphere, it will be really vocal, it will be strong, it will be physical, and we’ve got to start on the front foot and try to implement our game on them. It’s the players’ time – they’ll dictate which team will come out on top in the end and we’re confident it will be us. We’ve only lost three games in 22, so we’re in good form, and everything we’ve done up to this point suggests we’re strong contenders in the tie.”
David McGoldrick could make his first appearance for the Tractor Boys since February after recovering from a thigh injury. He has been back in training but a decision on his selection will be left until the very last minute.
Luke Varney who is on-loan from Blackburn Rovers will return after missing last week’s game against his parent club but midfielder Luke Hyam is struggling with a knee problem.
Defender Steven Whittaker (hamstring) and midfielder Alex Tettey (knee) have missed the last two games for Norwich City but their fitness has been monitored this week and they are in-line for returns to the starting eleven. Striker Cameron Jerome also could be available after he sat out last week’s 4-2 home win over Fulham.
Lewis Grabban will serve miss both legs due to a suspension and Graham Dorrans will come back into contention for a start.
• Ipswich have won 40 East Anglian derbies, Norwich have 38 wins, with 17 matches drawn.
• Norwich have won the last four derbies, the latest coming in the 2-0 victory at Carrow Road in March.
• Have contested 26 top-flight seasons – best finish was top, in 1962.
• Norwich have lost just one of their last 11 games, winning seven.